By Mike Schlicht and Tom Witt, The Ithaca Journal
Something remarkable occurred in the New York State Senate on May 12, and it didn’t involve petty political infighting or allegations of ethical lapses. Instead, senators from both sides of the aisle came together to pass — by a 45 to 16 margin — the Healthy Workplace Bill, which is designed to protect all workers from severe, disabling workplace bullying.
The bipartisan effort was led by Senators Thomas Morahan (R-Rockland Co.) and George Onorato (D-Queens), the bill’s prime Senate sponsors. The next stop is the State Assembly, where the bipartisan prime Assembly sponsors are Steve Englebright (D-Suffolk) and Bob Barra (R-Nassau), and hopes are running high that this spirit of cooperation will carry the bill up to the governor’s desk.
One would be hard pressed to think of a better idea to rally around: Workplace bullying involves the intentional, harmful mistreatment of an employee through verbal or non-verbal means by a supervisor or co-worker. This can range from overt behaviors such as the yelling and screaming by an abusive boss, to covert behaviors such as co-workers sabotaging the reputation and livelihood of a colleague.
In any form, workplace bullying is devastating and commonplace. Targets of it can experience severe depression, anxiety, increased risk of strokes and heart attacks, and symptoms consistent with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. In several instances, workplace bullying has been linked to suicides. According to a 2007 national survey conducted by the non-profit Workplace Bullying Institute, nearly 40 percent of American workers will experience some form of workplace bullying during their careers.
Organizations, too, suffer from workplace bullying. Studies show that bullying can result in reduced productivity, higher sick leave and attrition rates, and greater burdens on personnel operations. Unfortunately, too many employers do not understand these costs. The 2007 Workplace Bullying Institute survey found that when employers were apprised of potential bullying situations, 62 percent of the time they either ignored the complaint or made the situation worse.
The Healthy Workplace Bill is fair and balanced. It provides employers with incentives to reduce or avoid liability by taking adequate preventive and responsive measures. It places a cap on damages for less severe claims and explicitly preserves traditional management prerogatives to hire, evaluate and terminate employees.
Above all, the Healthy Workplace Bill promotes human dignity by recognizing that we all work better when we are not subjected to harmful, disabling bullying and abuse. It is a hopeful sign that during this age of bitter political partisanship, senators from both sides of the aisle had the humanity and good sense to recognize that psychologically safe workplaces benefit us all.
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